Monday, October 5, 2015

Using the Book of Mormon: Personal Soapbox Alert

Last Monday, I wrote a post about how we often misunderstand the Book of Mormon.  This post is a follow-up of that one.  

I have no problem with the statement that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. I just accept that characterization for a different reason than most people.   

When it was used as the keystone ("Here is Moroni's promise. Read this book from cover to cover with that promise in mind. Follow that promise. THEN, when you've done that, we'll start teaching doctrine."), missionary work flourished the most. When we started using it as a doctrinal proof-text and started focusing on teaching doctrine over converting spiritual experiences, missionary work flourished the least.

I know people who were converted to Mormonism through the Bible, and nearly every unique aspect of Mormon theology is grounded more in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon (which far too few members realize), but I know so many people whose subsequent reading of the Bible was influenced by what they read in the Book of Mormon - who "gained a testimony" of the Book of Mormon then had totally new insights as they read the Bible. After all, the Book of Mormon says in at least two places that it's primary intent is to convince people to believe the Bible - and, in my opinion, that means believing what the Bible actually teaches, not what centuries of theologians and religionists have said it teaches.

I believe the Book of Mormon does what it was intended to do very well, when used as it says it should be used - not for every single person, since nothing works for everyone, but generally. I think we as a people might understand that better if we actually used it "correctly" as a "correcting tool" - again, not with regard to doctrine but rather with regard to "spiritual orientation" or the opening of "spiritual eyes" to possibilities that have been hidden by centuries of denial.

To say it in a slightly different way:

In more than once passage, the Book of Mormon itself says that, ultimately, the Bible is more important than the Book of Mormon. I believe that message is loud and clear in the Book of Mormon - but it doesn't contradict the idea that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. The Book of Mormon can be the keystone while allowing the Bible to be the most important theological treatise (the record "held up" by the Book of Mormon) - which is how I would classify the two if I was trying to be concise. In other words, the Book of Mormon says as much about the worth of the Bible as it does about the role of Joseph Smith - although it does address that role, obviously.

The core intent of the Book of Mormon is to teach and testify of Jesus, the Christ. I don't think there is any reasonable dispute about that. However, I believe that this goal is accomplished differently than too many members realize.

The structure of the Book of Mormon (especially Moroni 10:3-5) is laid out in such a way that people who read it will believe that God can and will speak to them (let them know the truth of all things) - and that such a recognition will allow them then to read the Bible and understand and believe what it really says (primarily about God, their relationship to God and what the "power of godliness" really entails). In other words, the Book of Mormon allows people to read the Bible with "new spiritual eyes" through which the "mists of darkness" caused by centuries of Christian apologetics can be overcome and people can understand who they really are.

To say it differently, much of the grand theology of the Bible has crashed and burned since the Bible was written and canonized (and even before then). The "keystone" allows that theology to be rebuilt firmly; it "holds it together" not because of the words themselves contained in it but because of the process generated by the concept it teaches of a Father God who actually will communicate with his children and, subsequently, when re-reading the Bible, teach them of their "divine worth".

A core failure of our current approach at the local membership level, in my opinion, is both a lack of understanding of the Book of Mormon's role in that process (and what the Book of Mormon actually says) and a lack of understanding of the Bible and what it actually teaches. When we short-circuited and altered how we study, view and use the Book of Mormon, I believe we started losing the former respect for and understanding of the Bible that LDS members used to have.

1 comment:

ji said...

I appreciate these thoughts...